No two good schools are ever quite alike. No good school is exactly the same from one year to the next. Good schools sensitively reflect their communities – both the students and teachers within the school building, and the wider neighborhood it serves. A good school respectfully accommodates the best of its neighborhood, not abjectly – playing whatever tune any particular special interest group might demand – but sensibly, balancing the claims of national values with those of the immediate community.
A good school is a special creation of its own faculty – its teachers, counselors, and administrators. These are its “permanent” folk. Students and their parents come and go, but a good school’s core of veteran teachers and administrators make the difference. A school has character if its key faculty – its senators – feel collective responsibility for it, take its standards and its style seriously, and protect its reputation.
Such a commitment arises only when a faculty feels a sense of authority and control over its own school. Thus, just as a good school properly reflects its community, so too does it particularly show, and boldly, the convictions of its central staff, convictions that carry the authority of people who know that the school’s reputation rests squarely on their judgment and strength.
If these conclusions about good schools hold – and they are widely shared among thoughtful school people and researchers who have looked carefully at successful schools -does this mean that there is no such thing as a good “model” school? The answer has to be yes: There is no such thing as a distinct, detailed blueprint for a fine school any more than there is such for a successful family.
But just as with families, while not exhibiting precisely similar configurations and traditions, good schools do share powerful guiding ideas, principles that are widely accepted even as they take different practical forms when a particular group of people in a particular setting shape them into day-to-day expectations and routines.
It is for this reason that the Coalition of Essential Schools has advanced its work as a set of commonly held principles rather than as a “model”; for schools to emulate. The Coalition is, in effect, a process, an unfolding among a widely diverse group of school of structures, routines, and commitments appropriate to each which are consistent with our shared principles.
Coalition schools do not work in isolation, they borrow from each other. The purpose of the collaboration is to spark a sustained conversation about what the commonly held ideas might mean and how a variety of communities might assist each other in finding their best practical expression. Coalitions give strength in numbers, fortitude in times of pressure. And for policy makers, a variety of schools provides a rich source from which ultimately to draw conclusions about the practical utility of the shared ideas.
Excerpted from “Diverse Practice, Shared Ideas: The Essential School,” by Ted Sizer.